Archive for December, 2016

“Wow!”  Tate laughed.  “Small fucking world.”

“What do you mean?”  Matt asked.”

“I was headed there to stay with my cousin.  He’s been there since the VA cut him loose last year. He works for some crazy general restoring a hunting camp or something.”

“Damn.  I was hoping it was a little more than a hunting cabin.  Shit, two kids, and one a baby.  Maybe I ought to rethink taking the girls there.”

After a brief meeting with the women of the group it was decided they would all join Matt’s group.

“We have nothing to go back to.”  Red commented. “You’ve got a place to go that’s protected.  It’s what we need right now.”

“Accommodations are tight.  Just want you to know that.”

“We lived in a cage for the last week.  Do you really think it can be worse than that?”  Theresa answered.

Matt shrugged and answered. “Well, let’s get pack and get moving.  We can be there in six or seven hours.”

The store suddenly became a beehive of activity. Children and adults alike were gathering clothing and a myriad of supplies and carrying them to the vehicles.  They decided to leave the caged truck behind and take a mini-van they found in a garage behind the house.

The trip back was slow and winding through back roads.  They dodged two small gatherings of infected around stalled vehicles.  The people had run out of gas and spent days camping along a deserted road only to die from heat and exposure after running out of water waiting for rescue.

Red glanced to Matt behind the wheel of the mini-van.  “Dumb shits probably sat around waiting for someone to save them.”

He shrugged.  “Yeah.  City people in their SUVs don’t have much in the way of life skills for this life.”

“You do.”  Red answered.

Matt pulled the pills from his pocket and dray swallowed one.  “Haven’t always. I just figured out it’s time to step up.”

“You and Tate did.  I’d be dead right now if you two hadn’t come along.  I had every intentions of killing Stubby that night. Grant would have killed me, but that bastard would have been dead.  In my book, it would have been worth it.”

They drove in silence for a long time before Matt answered.  “You have to stop looking at it like that.  If you try to justify each and every time you’re put in that position before you act, you’ll end up dead.  It’s a matter of doing what you have to to survive.”

“I…”  Red began then fell silent.  After a moment she continued.  “They took everything. How do we go on after this?”

Matt glanced over his shoulder.  “The kids.”  He answered flatly.  “If we can protect the kids we have a chance. They will learn to adapt.  The bodies will decay and the infected will eventually disappear. If we can survive long enough, there’s hope for some of us.”

“We’re all infected. How can we make a life.  People die and it only takes one infected to destroy a community.  That’s what happened to our town.  One person.  That’s how it started.  Twenty four hours, it was overrun and those of us left were running for our lives.  We barely had time to load up water and canned goods.”

“We’ve seen that.”  Matt agreed.

“My brother in law got hit by a neighbor’s car. We took him and Theresa with us when we left.  He died and came back. If my husband hadn’t been there, he would have killed Theresa.”

“I’m sorry. But that’s the reality now.  We can lie down and die, or try to learn to live with an axe hanging over our heads.”

Matt saw the white trucks tail light blink twice.  Matt rolled down his side window and could hear the truck being down shifted.  He pulled the van toward the left and could see the camouflaged gate swing open.  “Here we go.  We’re home.”

Red turned toward the three people in the back seats.  “We’re here.  It will be fine.  Nice people that will be nice to us.  Wait and see.”

Matt glanced up at the hidden tree stand and threw a wave at the soldier.

“Glad to see you, Monroe.” The soldier held up a radio, then waved the caravan forward.

Matt followed the truck down the narrow gravel road to the park entrance.  The gate swung open and Larry ran up to the van.

“About fucking time you showed up, asshole.”  He took a deep breath.  “You had us worried.”

“Sorry about that.  I ran into a problem, Tate showed up then we got a little distracted.”  Matt nodded toward Red. “Found some folks that needed some help.”

Larry leaned in and grinned at Red. “I guess we’ll let it slide since you brought a beautiful woman back with you.”  He glanced toward the three people in the back seat.  “Welcome to Camp Verde.”

Tate pulled forward and Matt pulled his foot from the break.

Larry stepped back.  “Let’s get these folks inside and settled.” He tapped the top of the van. “When we get these folks settled, we need to have a talk.”

“Got it.  Meet me at the office at four.” Matt answered.

A few minutes later, five vehicles, the two pickups, the white truck, doc’s Oldsmobile and the minivan were parked at the edge of the parking lot.  Everyone gathered bags and boxes of supplies and followed Tate and Matt to the Rec Center.

Doc, Helen and their granddaughter, Libby and Rosalee stood together looking at all the people around the camp.  Red and Theresa stood together.  Three more children, two more adult women and two teenagers stood behind them.

They are looked around at the collection of soldiers, couple women and dozens of children and teens.  The kids were the first to move closer to the new arrivals.  Amy came hurried toward the group carrying Clair.

“Mr. Matt.”  Amy called out as she ran toward the small gathering. “I missed you.”

When Amy got to his side, Matt rumpled her hair and squatted down to smile at her.  “I missed you too, pumpkin.  How’s Claire Bear?”

Claire reached out with both arms and leaned toward Matt. He caught the wiggling bundle with a chuckle.

“Claire missed you too.”  Amy laughed and hugged Matt’s neck.

Finally, he rose.  “I can see. Have you two been good while I was gone?”

“Of course.  Miss Amanda fed Claire mushed up peas and she smelled so bad, Miss Amanda says never again.”

Amanda crossed the yard from the Manager’s office with Jake following close on her heels.  “Well, what have we hear.  New arrivals?”

“And none too soon, the way I see it, young lady.”  Answered Doc.

Amanda looked at the old man with white hair and the pleasant looking plump lady next to him.  “And why would that be?”  She asked.

“I’m a doctor and my wife a nurse.”  He grinned.  “From the looks of it, none too soon.”

Amanda laughed.  “If you only knew.”

Jake looked panicked.  “She’s been doing that thing all afternoon.”

“Just Braxton Hicks.”  She turned to Matt.  “Did you tell Jake to watch out for me?  I can’t even go to the bathroom without him jumping up and following me.”

Matt got to his feet.  “Jake, we need to get these folks settled.  Do we have room in the Rec Center?”

Jake nodded.  “We came across a lucky find, day before yesterday.”  Brought four campers from another camp ground, not far from here.  Found a few people too.”

Matt turned toward four campers parked on the front row of concrete pads behind the food truck.  “So I see. You can tell me all about it later.”

Matt pulled the cover from his watch and saw he missed midnight by seven minutes.  He emptied the rest of his bottle of water then got to his feet.  He stepped around the rest of the people that had chosen the store room to sleep in and walked to the front of the store.  He glanced over at the little girls and saw everyone was still asleep though one little girl whimpered from time to time.

Matt was frowning by the time he stepped around the display shelf and met Tate’s gaze.

“What’s that look for?”  She asked.

“Nothing.  The kid’s crying in her sleep.”

“They all went through a lot, but she’s all alone.  All the other kids have at least a sibling in the group.  She has no one, since she watched her folks killed.”

“I wish we hadn’t killed them so quick.”  Matt growled.

Tate sighed.  “Can’t change what happened.  I’m gonna get some sleep.  You’d better decide where we go from here.  They all act like you have all the answers.”

“That’s what scares me.”

Tate disappeared around a display case and after a few minutes of shuffling around she settled and Matt could hear a gentle sigh and then nothing but the soft whimper of the little girl.

Matt looked out into the moon lit night.  Distant fires glowed on the horizon.  He wondered what town.  Uvalde?  Had to be.  Could the whole town of fifteen thousand people be burning? They needed to head north and get back to Camp Verde.  Then what?  Stay or pack everyone up and head up to Pine Springs Canyon. Would the old man take in this many kids?

Matt ran his hands through his hair.  He made a mental calculation and realized he had two dozen adults and over thirty kids to look out for.  Fifty people would be a lot of mouths to feed.  A lot to bring to an old man’s door and expect sanctuary for all.

He took a deep breath and decided he didn’t need to decide anything right now. But when he got back, he needed to talk to Jake and Larry.  He couldn’t just sit at Camp Verde with the girls when he knew where they had family. He had told Amy he would get her to her grandfather.  What if the mother was there now thinking she had lost her children? He couldn’t imagine the pain she must be suffering.  He knew Brian Jameson and he was a good man. He had kept Matt out of jail more than a couple times in the past six months. Matt also was sure he was dead since he was on the base the morning of the attack.

Matt watched the shadows as the night slipped away.  He pondered the future for the group, his group.  He rested his hand on the bottle of pills in his pocket and vowed he would never take another drink.  He had a job.

He squared his shoulders and pulled a map from a side pocket and a LED light from another.  He laid the map on the counter and ran his fingers down the red lines back to Camp Verde.  He owed Jameson, but he couldn’t make it at the expense of forty-five other people that depended on him. He’d figure out a way to get the girls to their grandfather, but not right now. It was a matter of the greater good.

Just as the night faded and the sun peeked over the distant tree line Tate walked up behind Matt with two cups of coffee in hand.  She handed one to him.

“Well, boss.  What’s the plan?” She asked.

“They go to the camp with us. I have to get the girls we found in San Antonio to Pine Springs Canyon eventually, but for now….”

“Which girls?  What do you know about Pine Springs Canyon?”  Tate asked with a frown.

“Amy and Claire. Their dad died on the base.  I promised Amy, I’d get her and her sister to their grandfather’s place. That’s where they were going when they got separated from their mother.”

The van traveled around small gatherings of infected, abandoned and wrecked vehicles.  All the while, Brian directed them further from the mayhem that had once been the home of the famed River Walk and the Alamo.  An unusual quiet had settled over the occupants of the van.  They each knew they would never see the city as it had once been ever again.  The dead now owned the city of old churches and magnet of Hispanic culture in Texas.

“It’s all gone,”  Paula whispered.

“But we’re alive,” Brian answered.  “We’re alive to find a place to rebuild.  The dead will decay and disappear one day and the country will rebuild.”

“You really think so?”  Margo asked.

“We survived all this time in the midst of all the chaos and death.  I’m sure we were not the only ones.”  Brian answered.  He tapped Juan on the shoulder and pointed to sign.  “That’s the road.  Head north on 127.  There should be a fueling station at the intersection.”

The van crested a hill, and suddenly the vista opened to show miles of road laid out in a narrow black ribbon perpendicular to the road they were driving.  In the distance, they could see a fifty-foot sign advertising gas and food.

“There!”  Leon pointed from the front seat.  “I hope they have a beer.”  He laughed.

“I’d settle for a can of beanie whinnies,”  Billy announced.

“Let’s take it slow.  I see vehicles in the parking lot.” Brian said over Juan’s shoulder.  “There’s a good chance of infected wandering around.”

“Should we chance it?” Asked Margo. “Can’t we go somewhere else?”

Juan snorted. “No.  Gas tank’s been on empty for the last ten miles.  We’ll be walking if we don’t fill up.”

“Folks, we got no choice.  If we can, I’d like to get a second vehicle.”  Brian said. “Go in slow, Juan. Everyone pay attention and let’s see what we’re facing.”

Juan slipped the van back in gear, and the vehicle eased forward.  Two infected wondered from behind an eighteen wheeler at the edge of the parking lot.  Brian slid open the side door and stepped out on the asphalt with Billy close on his heels.  Leon followed.

The trio walked toward the two infected now homing in on them.  The taller of the two men wore coveralls and appeared to be a mechanic of some kind.  The second man was a graying, older man with a noticeable limp.  His right foot jutted out at an awkward angle that made the stumbling gate of the infected even more ungainly.

Leon used his machete to point toward a heavy duty pickup truck parked near a big rig.  The hood of the rig was open, and the pickup parked in front of it had several compartments left open.

“They came from over there.  I got this.”  Leon grinned back at Brian.

He walked to the tall, thin man and swung with his blade.  The man’s head separated from his shoulders and tumbled to the ground as his body collapsed to the asphalt. The second infected raised his arms to reach out, but Leon made another swing of the machete and took off the man’s arms.  The infected barely noticed the loss of his arms. He took another step forward, and Leon ended him then turned around and gave the two men a big grin.

“Quit horsing around,”  Brian ordered. “Look what’s coming.”

Leon turned back to the face more than a dozen infected stumbling toward them.  Men, women and even a couple children with horrible gaping wounds made their way toward the trio.

Brian nodded at Billy. “Spread out.  Take out the closest and don’t use your gun unless you get into trouble.”  He glanced at Juan and held up an open palm.

Juan slowed and called over his shoulder.  “Margo, you or Paula get your ass up here and let me go help.”

Paula jumped up and climbed around the middle seat to the back of the front seat.  Juan opened the door, slid to the side of the seat and paused as Paula slipped between the front seats to settle behind the wheel.

Juan stepped out of the van. “Hang back unless we get in trouble then get your ass up there.”

“Got it…just be careful.”  Paula answered.

Juan raised a hand to his head in a mock solute.  “Don’t be late.”

Brian nodded as Juan jogged to his left and moved forward with the others.  The infected were confused with so many options.  In the end, Juan had a man in a white apron cover in blood, making a beeline for him.  A second infected followed at a limping gate.  Brian had three men in blood splattered jerseys.  The arms and faces of all three men were shredded with raw strips of flesh.

Leon laughed a robust sound that filled the artificial silence of a world with so few people.  Four infected headed for the big black man.  The closest man was massive, at least five hundred pounds.  Whatever clothes he had been wearing in life had been pulled from his fold of white flesh.  An apron of flesh folded over his privates jiggled with each halting step he took toward Leon. His upper arms jiggled and flopped as he reached out toward his next prey.

Billy pointed and started laughing. “Holy shit!  That is the fattest fuck I have ever seen.”

Brian growled.  “Private, you got two infected looking at you like you’re a juicy steak. Get busy.”

Billy turned and took a couple steps back.  He raised his machete and swung at a teen boy with barely a hint of fuzz on his chin.  The infected kid’s glazed over eyes found Billy and turned just in time for the blade to separate his head from his shoulders.